March 11, 2011
But—I think I’ve explained this before—if you find a tiny piece, how can you tell whether it’s a dissolving dinosaur?
Lick it. If it’s bone, rather than some other stone like agate or silicified wood, the porous vesicles left by once-living cells and capillaries will wick up the moisture of your tongue, and it will stick.
June 29, 2010
In the mid-nineteenth century, Stephen James emigrated from Wales to work as a shipbuilder on the Great Lakes. Though he didn’t know his great-great-granddaughter would one day teach at Zuni Pueblo, he bequeathed to her the legacy of the unvoiced, or aspirated, L.
Llewellyn. Llangollen. The tongue forms an L, but the vocal cords rest and let the breath take over. English-speakers struggle, but Zuni-speakers are right at home with Grandpa’s double L.
Me’shoko eshe llabissho.
It means “donkey lips.” If you can say it, you’re Zuni…or Welsh.
June 11, 2010
May 18, 2010
March 29, 2010
Serena: I can spell Melissa. That’s my sister’s name. Only we call her Medusa.
Me: Does your sister have hair like snakes?
Serena (after a stare): She doesn’t have any hair. She’s bald. She just got born.
March 15, 2010
December 29, 2009
In the Mexican state of Oaxaca, thirteen indigenous languages are spoken. (This in addition to Spanish.)
In Oaxaca city, working with a group of preschool teachers who were making handmade readers for their students, we posed a question: How, in your various languages, would you express quantity: words like “lots,” “a few,” “some,” “a bunch”?
They grinned and asked us back: What are you referring to? Because in our languages it depends whether you’re talking about a lot/few/some/bunch of:
Long, skinny objects
Stuff that is neither close nor far away
Things we used to have
Things we might have someday
and so on.
I was humbled. Until then I had felt smug about the precision of my prose.